4 solid tips for crafting better email pitch subject lines

by | Sep 13, 2022 | Analysis, Public Relations

In a PR landscape increasingly intertwined with social media, first impressions matter. It’s more important than ever for PR professionals to craft pitches that grab journalists’ attention quickly. With the right subject line, the payoff can be enormous, and the opportunity is there (according to recent research, 93 percent of journalists prefer to receive pitches via one-on-one email, and 94 percent of PR professionals agree.)

For PR professionals that means it pays to think like a journalist—and doing so will increase your success rates. Often, a snazzy subject line means the difference between a successful placement and a pitch left unread. You might have a compelling, well-tailored pitch—but if a journalist doesn’t open your email, they won’t even have a chance to craft a great headline to match!

Years ago, a manager taught me the importance of making the work of your media counterparts as easy as possible. A huge part of this was providing the ingredients for the journalist to write a great story on what you’re pitching. Think of this as providing all the ingredients of a good meal. It starts with the narrative: What exactly is the story you’re pitching? From there, it’s about coming up with a creative headline and supporting points to tell the story.

Thinking like a journalist provides so much value

This reflects the journalistic age we live in. Because the industry is funded so heavily by ad revenue, journalists are incentivized to write content that will draw as many clicks onto their media site as possible. The more visitors to the site, the more potential advertising dollars roll in. With such a high premium on attention-grabbing subject lines and headlines, there’s no shortage of opinions on how and why readers engage with news content. But one thing is clear: they don’t appreciate being misled.

The same holds true for journalists receiving pitches from PR professionals

Your subject line needs to somehow stand out among the hundreds of emails swimming in your contact’s inbox. At the same time, it needs to deliver on that promise by offering substance.

Here are four tried-and-true tips that PR professionals can use to grab journalists’ attention and get their pitches opened—without compromising their integrity. In the long term, following these tips will help you craft better pitches, win more placements, and ultimately boost your clients’ success.

1. Build a narrative

Everyone loves a good story. As humans, it’s practically hardwired into our brains. So when you’re crafting your pitch subject line, try to go beyond your client’s product or service. What problem are they solving? What’s the takeaway for readers? What are the stakes in the story you’re pitching? But keep in mind: there’s a fine line between highlighting the drama and sensationalizing in a way that misleads readers. If you’re questioning whether an idea feels cheap, it probably is. A pitch should have that drama built in, without your subject line having to artificially create it.

2. Use data to enhance your story

We’ve all heard it before data is everywhere. And it makes sense. Data is a powerful tool for gaining deeper insight into a story, boosting engagement, and even creating a sense of fun. Try to think of a compelling data point or statistic to put into your email pitch subject line.

3. Be relevant

In today’s digital landscape, it’s never been easier for PR professionals to figure out what matters to journalists, editors and outlets before pitching them a story. In addition to accessible information on websites, nearly 60 percent of reporters post on Twitter (according to Columbia Journalism Review). Do your research ahead of time, and make sure your story has relevance. Don’t settle for generic content you think will draw more people in.

4. Include client assets and industry trends

From data sets to case studies to testimonials to expert commentary, concrete materials from your client help a journalist tell the story better. If you have assets to share, your email subject line is a great place to indicate them (for example, “Client CEO responds to X event or topic”). As a well-informed PR professional, it’s also key to be conversant in the broader trends affecting your client’s industry. If you can find a way to hint at a current industry trend in your subject line, all the better!

Getting the interest from a journalist is job number one for the PR professional. We are selling stories on behalf of our clients to secure earned media coverage. We need to find creative ways to get a journalist to open up the email pitch.

At the end of the day, there’s no shortage of fantastic stories out there, with journalists ready to cover them and PR profesionals ready to spread the word. Journalists and PR professionals are ultimately responsible for coming together for a common goal: producing better content for everyone.

John McCartney
John McCartney, APR, is a Principal at Jmac PR, a boutique Strategic PR and Marketing Communications agency based in Los Angeles. He is a PRSA-LA board member (Treasurer) and serves on the DEI and Sponsorship committees. You can connect with John on Linkedin, follow him on Twitter at @johnny_mac, or learn more at  www.jmacpr.com.


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